Piling into the car and heading south to Florida is the quintessential Canadian holiday. But this summer many could find themselves doing a U-turn at the border. As of June 1, Canadians will need a passport to enter the U.S. by land or water, so you’d think Passport Canada would be seeing a boom in applications. Despite the impending deadline, though, they’re actually issuing slightly fewer passports than last year.
Once the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative comes into effect on June 1 of this year, your driver’s licence won’t cut it anymore—all Canadians will be required to show a passport or other approved document to cross into the U.S. by car. Anticipating a rush on the documents, Passport Canada nearly doubled its staff over the past two years. But those extra employees don’t seem to have much to do. In November and December, demand for passports actually fell below 2007 levels. In December, an average of 16,600 passports were issued daily, almost 5,000 less than the December before, says spokesperson Jean-Sébastien Roy. In January, the agency issued about 18,000 passports a day, roughly the same as the January before.
How to explain it? “We don’t have any official reasons,” Roy says, suggesting the bad economy could be partly to blame. But a lack of public awareness might also be a factor. Last year, Passport Canada ran six separate media campaigns—in newspapers, on the radio and elsewhere—to encourage people to apply. While the agency is now “working on” a new campaign, it has none under way at the moment, Roy says.
In total, Passport Canada issued a record 4.8 million passports last fiscal year, but even so, only 54 per cent of Canadians currently have one. If you’re one who doesn’t, and you’re stopped at the border this summer—don’t say we didn’t warn you.